Interview with Dino Mennillo

The summer of 2001 saw Walsall lying in the sun reflecting on promotion to Division One after their play-off success. Sir Ray – white handkerchief on his head – plotted with Paul Taylor – caked in coconut oil – about the players needed to stay up next season.

Dino Mennillo was one of the signings. He was unveiled to the press. Played a couple of games in Scotland. And then was gone, before the season even started.

So what actually happened? Dino has agreed to put the record straight and tell us about what has happened to him since then.

What are your memories of Walsall?

To be completely honest my memories are difficult to describe. Whilst I was thrilled to be signed and given an opportunity at such a high level, in hindsight, I realized fairly early on that I was about five years too late. I was 25, recently married, and my wife and I had been living on the coast outside of Sydney (Wollongong) in a beautiful apartment overlooking the beach. Living in Walsall was quite a cultural shock for me initially, it was very hard to feel settled.

You joined us for approximately a week in July 2001 and went with us on a pre-season tour of Scotland where you played two games against Dunfermline Athletic and Livingston respectively. Can you recall what happened?

In actual fact, I signed for Walsall prior to pre-season starting. My trial at the end of the previous season with Bradford went really well and I was offered a good contract with incentives. My then manager of my team in Australia arranged for me to return to play in the Grand Final and stayed on with the agents to finalise my contract.

Following the Grand Final I was getting married, going on a two week honeymoon and then returning to Bradford to start pre -season and hopefully a good career in England. In retrospect I was naive, I should have signed the contract before I left. One week prior to flying to Bradford Jim Jefferies was sacked as manager and the new manager wanted me to go on trial again before honouring my contract.

My manager and the agents were able to give me four other options with clubs in the Football League. Walsall offered me a great contract without any trial conditions. My manager was keen to make some money and urged me to take the firm offer. Today I look back on that decision without regret. I was thankful to Walsall for taking the gamble and signing me, however I was bitterly disappointed that Bradford didn’t work out. I thought I made the best decision at the time for myself and my wife.

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Had you heard of Walsall before joining us?

Yes I had. I would follow the divisions of English football with some interest. I knew it was close to Birmingham and in the British midlands.

‘Dino has an excellent left foot and is a good crosser of the ball,’ beamed Graydon. ‘He is very much in the Paul Simpson mould and is an exciting signing for the club’. Do you agree with this assessment? Do you know who Paul Simpson is?

I’d be lying if I said I knew a great deal about Paul, however, his name was familiar to me, and after I researched him, I could see the comparison, except , he had an exceptional career in England and I didn’t! I wish as a younger player a coach had given me greater guidance on developing my right foot. My left is like many natural lefties, it is very good but my right was never good enough.

How did you get on with the other players and the manager Ray Graydon?

Ray and the players treated me well. I was a grown man and I knew that I had to earn respect from the players and manager. Unfortunately Ray didn’t really get to see me prior to signing and I don’t think I was the player he was hoping for. I never really felt like I did at Bradford and I could see that amongst the playing group. After a few trials in Europe you can tell when it is the right fit and things are going your way. Again, it is easy to look at this negatively but I feel that the club treated me well whilst I was there and made it easy for me to move on when I wanted to.

From Walsall you went to play in Greece but never settled there and soon went back to Australia, why was that?

I went to a club called Kalithea. My coach at Wollongong was given the job there and knew things hadn’t worked out for me at Walsall. I was always sceptical about the Greek league and players not being paid on time. It was beautiful in Greece, the football was more my style and I lived near the beach. If they were honest and timely in their payments I would have stayed. I laugh now because I knew what I was getting in to! It was another life experience and I got to play with two players from the Australian League, which was good.

Your most successful spell in Australia was playing for Wollongong Wolves where you won the National Soccer League in 1999/2000. You came back from 3-0 down but missed a penalty in the shoot out before Wolves were victorious. It is a famous game in Australia – what are your memories of it?

I missed a penalty, but I laugh because no one remembers the gem of a ball I put through for a great player, called Paul Reid, who slotted home the equalising third goal with 2 minutes left! I wasn’t meant to take a penalty because I had played with the opposing keeper , Jason  Petkovic, for five years at Adelaide City and I would take penalties before training for him. But, as what usually happens, the pressure was too much for some of the allocated penalty takers so I stood up. Again no regrets, I missed but it turned out OK in the end. The next year 2000/2001 I came off the bench in the Grand Final having returned from my trial at Bradford. Whilst it was great to win back to back titles, the Perth game is one that people still remember as one of the greatest comebacks in Australian football. It certainly was one of my most memorable games.

Watch Dino in action in the Grand Final

You also played for Adelaide City in the National Soccer League and the New Zealand team Football Kingz but never played in the newly formed professional league (The A-League) which started in 2005. Why was that? What was the standard of football like in Australia during your time there?

The standard is better now from a physical perspective but technically I think the game lacks players with great initiative and flair. In my era there were athletes but there were great ball players. By 2003, I’d spent two more seasons at Wollongong and my wife was pregnant with our first child. I had a degree in occupational therapy and I started to think about my future and the fact that football would not be around forever and if I put as much effort into something else could this provide for my family into the future? The A league started 2 years after I had stopped playing at national league level. I had just started my own occupational therapy business and I was 30. Whilst it may have been nice to try, I was content with how things were going for me at that time.

You had a dispute with Football Kingz over unpaid wages – is this what led you to try your luck in the UK? Are you a strong believer in Trade Unions?

Football Kingz was another great experience. Wynton Rufer was the coach who had a brilliant career with Werder Bremen in Germany, and I learned so much from him in a short time. They had financial problems and I needed to make a decision in a difficult time. Nick Theo the Wollongong coach was very keen for me to join the club and it turned out to be a great move for me in many ways. The players union was at its infancy in Australia at that time but they helped me enormously in my career. Players unions are important but like everything, there needs to be a good balance. Around the world the players unions have become very strong and in some ways the balance has seen clubs suffer at times. It is difficult to find the right balance in such an unpredictable and at times volatile world of football.

In 1995 you represented Australia in the World Youth Championship in Qatar. You played in two games as Australia got to the quarter finals. What are your memories? Did you know then that your captain, Mark Viduka, was destined for better things?

Playing in the World Youth Championship in 1995 was amazing. Qatar was hot and the conditions were difficult in the country at that time. We couldn’t really leave the hotel so we relied on the unity of the team to get us by each day, as I am sure it was for all teams then.

Mark ‘Vidukes’ was an amazing player then and we knew he was destined for greater things. I lived with him at 16 years of age at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. I then spent the next four years touring with the Australian team with Vidukes and other great players of that era. I remember when we first arrived at the AIS as fifteen year olds and Vidukes was a great guy but he was raw, tall and was homesick. He wasn’t the best player there but every day he would spend more time than any other player in the indoor football gym working on technique. You could hear him kicking the ball against the wall in his room until three or four in the morning. It would drive us nuts. He was talented but he worked harder than any other player there. I have a great deal of respect for him as a person because I saw his struggles and triumphs from a unique perspective. Over the years I would bump in to him every now and then and it was always like it was when we were young. He is a humble, introverted and loyal person, not to mention he wasn’t a bad footballer either!

I see you still turn out for a team called Bosa SC – how is that?

Bosa is an amateur team. I’m 40, reasonably fit and I still enjoy playing against 20 year olds. I often wish I had my football brain of today with my 25 year old body but I guess most football die-hards think the same. I have just been appointed player manager for 2016 and apart from coaching my son’s team, this is the first time that I have been interested in coaching. Work commitments didn’t permit me to play for four years but over the last six years I’ve enjoyed playing because there is no money involved and it is as pure as can be. I will play until I physically can’t, I started when I was four and football had given me so much in my life, it is very hard to give it away.

When did you first get interested in becoming an Occupational Therapist? Did you manage to combine your studies with your football?

I studied whilst I played at Adelaide City from 94 until 99. I combined them because football in Australia was only semi-pro then. It was hard at times but also provided me with balance – when one wasn’t going so well I had the other to focus on and divert me. It grounded me and enabled me to relax and achieve my potential in both areas. I have had my own private paediatric occupational therapy business in Adelaide for over 10 years. I love my work with children and employ fourteen brilliant therapists and admin staff. Seeing  and working with families and children with special needs is grounding, my life as a footballer was unbelievable but my work today is humbling and gives me a sense of purpose and drive.

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I can see you are a follically challenged man (like my good self). How do you keep your head from getting sunburned? Sun hat, factor 50 or walking in the shade?

We have a famous commercial in Australia that says ‘slip slop slap’ which basically means ‘put on lots of sunscreen, wear a shirt and put on a hat!’

Finally, do you ever look out for the Walsall results?

Funny you should ask, I had a look again last week. The web has made this so easy. I’ve watched them go up down and sideways over the years! I always wish them well and hope in time that the Premier League calls. My football career has taught me to appreciate the fans – they cry, rejoice, love, hate and live every moment of their beloved club (often long after the players have moved on). The people behind the scenes are often unappreciated and undervalued, it is a fault of human nature. Football at its purest is about freedom of expression, unity and a common goal. Hard to remember in this climate but every Saturday, for me, it still feels like I’m playing in the biggest match of my life!

Thank you for the opportunity to relive my brief time at Walsall. I wish the club and the fans a successful new year.

There you go then. The mystery of Dino Mennillo is finally solved. What an absolute gent for agreeing to the interview and The Gilbert Alsop wishes him all the best for the future.

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Gabby Bukran Interview

‘He comes from Hungary, he plays for Walsall FC, ohhhhh Gabby, oh, oh, oh, ohhhhh Gabby, oh, oh, oh.’ This was the refrain from The Gilbert Alsop terrace every time our favourite Hungarian midfielder came over to clap the fans – with shirt untucked and his hair still parted expertly down the middle – after another spirited performance in our midfield.

Gabby arrived at Walsall in the summer of 1999 to take part in our brave but unsuccessful attempt to stay in the First Division and left after taking us back up, via the play off success over Reading. Here is a picture of Gabor leading Walsall’s (and maybe even the World’s) most famous caterpillar conga dance ever:

Gabby

After conducting some research I found out that Gabby is still playing football in the Fourth division of Belgium football for a team called Royal Cercle Sportif Onhaye. I sent a few emails to the secretary of the club and after a few months a wonderfully polite email from Gabor came into my inbox agreeing to an interview. Here it is in full:

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The Gilbert Alsop: Thank you very much for getting back to me. I am very excited by this, as you were one of my favourite players at Walsall and played for us through a very successful period.

Gabor Bukran: I respond with pleasure Gilbert. I’m glad to hear that you liked the way I was playing at Walsall, you are right those two seasons were very nice ones.

Can you please tell us what you are currently doing? I understand you are still playing football in Belgium is this correct?

Today I’m working in NDT (Nuclear) business for the company Oserix located here in Belgium around 45 minutes drive from my town (Namur) where I’m living with my wife Nancy (with who we will celebrate on the 31/05/2014 our 17th year of marriage together – she is working in Brussels at the European Commission as a secretary) and my two kids Logan (15 years old, also playing football, nice tall guy who is already 1m82 with some good quality as a striker, number 9) and Laura (10 years old, she is following a dance course). Yes you are right I’m still playing with “Onhaye Football Club” in the fourth division here in Belgium. My passing is still ok but no more tackling and much less running up and down. I will be 39 on the 16/11/1975. I will probably try to play one more year with this club and then finish my career after the end of the next season. I am busy with my diploma “UEFA B” for becoming a trainer/coach after my career ends. In September of this year I will start courses to obtain the diploma “UEFA A” with which you can work in high level clubs. Who knows, maybe one day I will come back to England as a coach – when I see the great job that Roberto Martinez at Wigan and Everton has done who was not such a big player I say to myself ‘why not a guy like me?’ I certainly have much more experience than him as a football player.

You have played football in Hungary, Spain, Belgium and England. Which country did you like best? How many languages can you speak?

A couple of days ago I had an interview here in Belgium for one of the sport newspapers, and one of the questions was the same which you are asking me. Of course, my answer was that definitely the best place to play football is in England, people love football there and the supporters are fantastic. I speak Hungarian, French, Spanish, English and a little bit of German as well.

You played once for the Hungary national team; can you please tell us about that experience?

I was selected in a squad of 25 players 5–6 times and then in the smaller squad of 16-18 players twice, once in Portugal (I was on the bench and I didn’t play) and then I played the full game against Australia.

Every single player in the world dreams of playing at least once with the national team of his country, I had this magnificent experience, which is unforgettable.

 

walsall 

How did you come to sign for Walsall? Were you familiar with Walsall growing up in Hungary?

I came to Walsall via one person with who I was working with at that time (and we still have a very nice contact together) Mr. Colin Pomford (a football agent).

Your first season at Walsall you were relegated but the team put up a very brave fight. What are your memories of your first season?

I think we had a great season in the First Division. I remember we had a chance to stay up until the last game at Ipswish (we lost 2-0). I have many, many good memories from this year, very big games against very big clubs and good times on the field.

We had some very nice victories against famous clubs. For me, all the season was nice – even if we were relegated.

What do you recall from winning all those local derbies against Wolves, West Brom and Birmingham?

Same as with the national team of Hungary, they are unforgettable moments.

The next season at Walsall you were promoted via the play-offs in Cardiff. What are your memories of that season and that great day in Cardiff?

Very nice day, also something that I will never forget and will always remember. I show the tape of the game to my son, friends and many people around me, many times. I’m glad that I was taking part in the promotion of Walsall back to the First Division.

Why did you lead that famous conga style – caterpillar like dance in celebration?

I saw on the television one day a team from, if I remember well, Spain was doing this, and when you are happy you are doing crazy things sometimes.

In my opinion your best game for Walsall was against Cambridge when you scored two great goals and we won 3-1. Do you agree? You can watch the goals here: 

Yes it was a great game, nice win and I had the chance to score two very nice goals (probably one of my best games for Walsall) but you should know that every single game I played with Walsall I was taking a lot of pleasure on the field.

During your time at Walsall the fans used to sing: ‘He comes from Hungary, he plays for Walsall FC, Oh Gabby, Oh, oh, oh’ and you always used to applaud the crowd after every game. Did you enjoy the support you received at Walsall?

Still today even 14 years after, when I’m writing this e-mail to you I still have a lot of emotion. I had a lot of respect for supporters of Walsall and I always feel that they were respecting me as well, and always pushing me, they were always behind me, they were just magnificent. I will never forget them and the love they showed me during my period at Walsall.

I thought you were a very good midfielder who could keep possession well but also tackle and get forward to score goals on occasion. What do you think were your skills?

I was the player who played simple football – passing and moving – I loved to help my team through attacking and defending as well.

Where did you live in Walsall? Who were your friends at the club? Who were the best players during your time?

The first year I lived in Wolverhampton and the second year in Telford. I’m still in contact with (ex Walsall staff) Mrs. Pip Nash and sometimes I have contact also with Mr. Bill Jones, and with Mr. Paul Taylor who was the General Manager of the club at that time.

There was a couple of very good player in the team at that time. A very good goalkeeper Walker, right side Darren Wrack, striker Jorge Lietao, Paul Hall, Daren Byfield, Pedro Matias, Zigor Aranalde, Gino Padula, Keates, Bennett – and I’m certainly forgetting some of them.

In general, I think we had a nice, good quality team during these two years.

Did you ever go out drinking with other teammates in Walsall town centre?

No, after training I was always with my wife Nancy, she was alone at home so I tried to be with her most of the time. I participated in all celebrations with the group of players though, for example, the end of year party.

Did you enjoy working with Ray Graydon? Was he angry with you when you got sent off playing against Bury?

Yes, I was pleased to work with him, he was a very good trainer he did a great job with us during these two seasons.

Yes, he was not happy at all and after that game against Bury he always put me on the bench.

I think that this was not correct because the player from Bury hit me when the ball was at least 30 metres from me so it was nothing to do with the game. I just had a normal human reaction and it was just bad luck that the referee didn’t see the player of Bury as he should be sent off as it his fault.

I never hit somebody in all my career like he did with me, I had bad luck that the referee just saw me when I pushed the Bury player. Mr. Ray Graydon didn’t accept this, which I think is just a normal reaction, I never said something or did something wrong when players made fouls on me in normal situations in the game with the ball, but I didn’t understand why this player hit me when the ball was not there – the ball was at least 30 metres from me.

Why did you leave Walsall?

I left Walsall because Mr. Ray Graydon told me to leave; he said that he did not need me anymore for the future.

It was not easy for me because as you know I was happy with the club and my ambition was to continue, especially as we returned to the First Division, but football is like this – you should accept some decisions of managers and chairmen.

Do you still look for Walsall’s results?

Yes, of course I follow Walsall’s results they are having a good season in the middle of the table, I thing the end of the season has been more difficult, if I remember well.

Thank you once again for this, if there is anything else you would like to add then please feel free to do so.

Bukran

Thank you very much for your interest with me, I would like just to say (even if I did already a couple of times) thank you very much to everybody who still remembers me (people like you), thanks to the fans, people working in the club, trainers, players for those two excellent years of my career, during which I had a chance to be with you and for which I will always have nice memories.

What a lovely man, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Gabby telling us that he watches videos of his time at Walsall with his son at home in Belgium proves that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever Walsall.

 

 

Roger Boli Interview

Wooohhh! Hold your horses, don’t get too excited. This interview won’t reveal too much, in fact, hardly anything at all. And therein lies its beauty.

Roger Boli is the scorer of Walsall’s greatest ever goal and that is official. I can’t be bothered to upload a video of him scoring that overhead kick but you can just type it into any internet search engine and you will be able to see it.

Go right to the end of that interview and you will hear Boli speak. From that you can gauge Boli’s first language isn’t English. Through reading many books that covers Boli’s time at Walsall (The Good the Bad and the Boozy, Wacka: Size isn’t Everything, Walsall FC: The Bescot Years)  it is established that Boli’s English never really improved after that early interview.

Anyways, enough of the rambling, what you have just read will be more relevant later on. I wanted to interview Boli about his famous goal and his time at Walsall. I know he is now a football agent (involved in the controversial deal surrounding Gael Kakuta and Chelsea) so I tried to get through to him that way. No response. I tried Facebook. Nothing. I tried Twitter and thought I was in luck until I read his Twitter bio and it is obviously a fake one. Eventually, I tried a well-known professional networking site and after forgetting about it for a few months I got accepted as a friend.

What follows is an exact transcript of that interview that took place over the course of three emails:

The Gilbert Alsop: 

Bonjour Roger,
Can you answer a few questions about your time at Walsall?
I can send them to you if you like – firstly though, is the overhead kick you scored against Southen United your best ever goal?

Roger Boli Football Agent.jpg

Roger Boli:

Hi gilbert how are you? Nice to speak with you.oh yeah he is! I will never forget this crazy goal and my first club in England and my first expérience. Big time time for me.

The Gilbert Alsop:

Are you still friends with anyone from Walsall – how about your team mate Jeff Peron?
Do you remember the Honda Civic that you were both given?
https://thegilbertalsop.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/roger-boli-jeff-peron-photo-special/
Did you enjoy living in the town of Walsall?
How is your life as a football agent?

Roger Boli:

Living out of the town.still agent.who is chief executive in walsall now and who is manager?

I remenber the honda of course.it was very difficult at the begening.english drining

The Gilbert Alsop:

The manager is Dean Smith. The Chief Executive is Stefan Gamble.

Many thanks for the interview.

Roger Boli:

Dean Smith played With me not.

And there you have it, I told you not to get too excited didn’t I? All the spelling mistakes (including mine) and an irrelevant link have been deliberately included, so please don’t write in to complain.

Of course, If I hear any more from my new bestie then it will all be put on here.

Ta’ra.

Interview with ex-Saddler Ian Gaunt

The names of Walker, Brightwell, Aranalde, Tilson, Roper, Keates, Bennett, Goodman, Byfield, Matias, Leitao and Angell all bring back wonderful memories of Walsall’s glorious 2000/2001 campaign.

There were other people involved in that campaign though. Bryan Small, Barry Horne, Dion Scott, Karl Hawley, Alfie Carter and Ian Gaunt all played for Walsall that season.

The name of Ian Gaunt will be familiar to any Saddler who attended an LDV Vans Trophy game against Wigan in January. This is because the then 19 year-old centre-half, making his debut, scored a last-minute winner to take us through to the next round.

What happened to Ian after that? The Gilbert Alsop caught up with him recently and asked him a few questions….

When did you sign your contract? 

I signed my scholarship forms at the end of the 1998 season when I was 16.

At the beginning of the 1999/2000 season you played a friendly against Pelsall Villa and won 10-0 when the first team were away on tour. What are your memories?

I don’t remember too much to be honest, only that the Pelsall Villa players weren’t too chuffed at being thrashed by a load of teenagers. Now I’m a bit older I can completely understand why!

The pre-season friendlies for the next season saw you play against Rushall Olympic and Worcester City. What are your memories of those games? 

Not much, I remember it being boiling hot. I was on the bench against Worcester and remember getting thrown on at half time, literally as we were walking out for the second half because Matt Gadsby was being sick in the toilet (I think he’d got sun stroke). I played right back which was a first!

Walsall’s centre-halves that season were Barras, Roper, Tilson and Dion Scott. Did you know how difficult it would be to break into the first team? Did you think of yourself as 5th choice?

Obviously Barras, Roper and Tilson were well established so I definitely had some work to do to compete with them, I knew that would be difficult. Dion was a year older than me but I felt like I could compete with him. When all five of us were fit I was often played at left back for the reserves so we could all be accommodated.

The moment all Walsall fans will remember for you is scoring the last-minute winner in a LDV Vans game against Wigan. I understand you were only in the team because Ronnie Ekelund got stuck in a traffic jam. I also have memories of Gino Padula scoring a great goal for Wigan. What are your memories of this?

Yes, that’s right. Mick Halsall was looking after team that night and due to the traffic jam he had difficulty working out which players were in the dressing room, and who needed to be promoted from the bench etc. The whole experience was great. I played really well that day and obviously scoring the winner in the last minute was brilliant.

The next game you played in was a 4-0 defeat against Stoke in the next round, where you were sent off. How did you feel after that game?

The Stoke game was a different level to the previous week against Wigan. Aside from the sending off I didn’t play well so was really disappointed with that more than anything. The sending off came because Dion lost the ball on the half way line and I was trying to get back. To this day I’m convinced I made a good tackle and played the ball (not many people believe me though!). Ian Roper was on the other side of the attacker so I like to blame him (haha). I can see why I went off because I’d gone to ground.

You were released from Walsall a few days after their triumph at Cardiff. Were you with the squad that day? What are your memories?

I wasn’t with the playing squad, although I watched the match from a corporate box (can’t remember why/how I ended up in there but it wasn’t organised through the club) and saw a few of the players afterwards. It was obviously a great result for the club but ironically probably had some bearing on me getting released given that we had got promoted.

How did you feel about being released? 

I was gutted. I thought I’d done enough (and more) but the coaching staff has to make difficult decisions based on many factors, which I completely understand.

After leaving Walsall, I understand you had a loan spell at Moor Green before studying for your degree. Can you fill us in with what you have been doing since leaving Walsall?

I never really played for Moor Green; I was on the bench for one match I decided it wasn’t for me. I then went to Loughborough University to study Sports Science. During my first year the football team (made up of a lot of former players) were the best in Britain. The standard was very high. We beat a pretty strong Villa side (which included Paul Merson) in a pre season friendly and then went on to win the BUSA (now BUCS) championships. I played for English Universities and then Great Britain Students, which was an amazing experience and one of my proudest achievements. I was part of a trip to Libya where we played France and Libya. It also involved a visit to Colonel Gaddafi’s house/compound (not many people can say they’ve been there!).

After graduating I worked at Loughborough University for three years before in 2008 getting a job at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. I am now fortunate enough to be the Assistant Director of Sport at the University and live and work in a beautiful part of the UK. One of my roles is to manage pre season training camps for professional clubs. In the last few years we’ve had the likes of Barcelona, Norwich, and last season Man Utd and Everton training here. Dundee Utd uses our facilities as their main training ground so that’s obviously great to be involved in.

I don’t really play much football anymore, but I’m a keen golfer (would be rude not to be in St Andrews) and am determined to lower my handicap (currently 4). I got married to Heather last year and we are expecting our first baby in August.

Whilst I will also wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t have been released I know that many of the great things I’ve been lucky enough to experience since wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Who were the best players when you were with Walsall? Who were you most friendly with? Are you still in touch with anyone? Where did the Spanish guys spend their social time?

Best players during my time were probably Andy Rammell and Jimmy Walker. Being a centre-half I learned a lot from the likes of Andy Tilson (who was really good to me). I couldn’t tell you where the Spanish guys socialised.

David Hunt was best man at my wedding; he got released from Walsall the same year as me, and was at Loughborough as well. He’s currently a physio at Birmingham City. I’m still in touch with a few of the other youth team players through Facebook but that’s about it.

Was their anyone from your youth team days that didn’t make the grade but you feel as though they should have done? 

Not really, but there’s a few that did get contracts who I (and others) felt shouldn’t have. Unfortunately we’ve since been proved right.

What was Ray Graydon like with you?

He made sure you knew who was boss (which is not a bad thing). I cleaned his boots so the pressure was always on me! Unfortunately for me he was great at bringing in centre-halves who did brilliantly in the last few years of their careers.

And finally, how much were you paid? 

Not very much!

Red Card Roy Reveals All

In March last year Alan Buckley’s 3 Striped Adidas Shirt wrote a story about Roy McDonough, which you can read here. This story was written because a book was shortly going to be produced, and now as it has been released, Roy ensured that he put me top of the interview list (after Talksport, The Daily Telegraph, various tabloids and numerous local radio stations) to promote this book. My slot came today and I was determined to make my mark. The time was 6pm, Starbucks at Canary Wharf. My ethics went out the window, as I didn’t give a damn about my self-imposed exile of this coffee chain. It was to be my first ever face-to-face interview. I put on my whitest shirt in the morning, and for the first time in a number of years I said a little prayer.

At lunchtime, I received an email stating Roy couldn’t make it, could I do a phone interview instead? The benefits of this were that I no longer had to buy a dictaphone and could be back in time for the T20 international. I quickly agreed. I made the call at 5.15 to Bernie Friend the writer of the book. Roy was on another call. I called again at 5.30 and got handed over to the big man. This is what he had to say as he travelled through the Dartford tunnel.

TGA: How did the idea of the book come about?

RM: At the same time that I was getting encouragement from my nephew, Lee, about writing the story of my life, I met Bernie a couple of times at Southend, who also thought it was a good idea. We then spent a week together in the Algarve recording my footballing anecdotes, and from out of this, the book emerged.

What are your memories of your time at Walsall?

I had a good time at Walsall, it is where I learned my trade as a target-man. It really toughened me up. There were some great players; Ron Green, Kenny Mower, Brian Caswell and Dave Seralla amongst them.

Alan Buckley comes in for some criticism in your book. Can you expand on this?

I was a young lad at Walsall, learning my trade. I got a lot of unneccesary stick from the crowd as I was there to do all the donkey work for the other forwards and I wasn’t appreciated by the spectators, despite doing a good job. Alan Buckley told me not to worry though as he would reward me with a better contract if I continued to play the way that I was. At the end of the season, when we got promoted, he went back on his word though and dropped my wages. Alan Buckley as a man was ok but as a manager I no longer had any respect for him after that.

You were at Walsall when we were paying transfer fees and broke our transfer record fee of £175,000 for the re-signing of Alan Buckley. What were your wages? Did you get on well with Ken Wheldon?

I was on £450 a week. I had just signed from Birmingham who were in the First Division and most of the dressing room knew what the other players were getting. (I then told him a story that I heard Alan Buckley was on £350 a week at Birmingham) I don’t believe that. I don’t believe what he says. He would have been on more than that.

In 1992 Walsall came to Layer Road, Colchester, whilst you were a player-manager, can you tell us what happened?

We (Colchester) won 3-1 and I ended up getting arrested. There was a big fat lump of a Walsall fan behind the goal, giving me grief. I liked to have a chat with the opposing fans at corners so I started chatting to him. Then all the other fans started to swear at me and give me grief. I didn’t retaliate. I just replied to the big lumps criticism, with the line ‘Yeah mate. I hated playing at Wembley’ (Roy won the FA Trophy with Colchester the previous summer and Walsall FC -as you know- have never played at Wembley). Those fans reported me to the police and then I had to spend an hour in the nick explaining myself after the game.

Do you still identify yourself as a Brummie?

I lived in Essex for 23 years so it is difficult to answer. I’ll tell you something though ‘Walsall FC are a far better club than Chelsea’ (Roy left Walsall to join Chelsea, who at the time were managed by Geoff Hurst).

You occasionally played at centre-half. Did you enjoy this?

I could have played at the top level if I concentrated on this position. I was too much of a team man, I played in every position in my career. A striker thrives on good service and I didn’t have that at some of my clubs.

Now time for the legendary quick-fire quiz. Most skilful player at Walsall?

Ian Paul.

Hardest (besides yourself)?

Brian Caswell and Dave Seralla.

Laziest?

Alan Buckley, by a street mile.

Most intelligent?

That was me. I got all my O-levels.

With that, I wished the big man all the best and he recripricated. I asked him other questions about his time at Southend and his thoughts on modern football and stadia but that is not for this blog.

You can buy the book here and I thoroughly recommend that you do. It is a cracking read. Entertaining from start to finish as Roy’s colourful life is displayed in all its glory for us to devour. It is worth buying simply for a great anecdote about Tommy Smith playing for Swansea against Walsall, which I won’t reveal to you.

Super George’s Day

April 23rd is, of course, Saint George’s Day. We were told as kids of George slaying a dragon – a no doubt fictitious tale. Well 23rd April 2012 is the 70th birthday of Walsall goalscoring hero George Andrews, whose claim to fame occurred on Saturday 25th January 1975, when he slayed Newcastle United with a trademark header in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup at Fellows Park.

George had arrived at Walsall from Shrewsbury Town two years previously, in a swap deal which saw winger Geoff Morris switch to the Gay Meadow. After starting his career with Luton Town and Cardiff City, he made his name at Southport where he scored 40 goals in two seasons. After four years at Haig Avenue he spent a similar period at Shrewsbury where the goals continued and he had a reputation for being a fine header of the ball.

At Fellows Park he partnered Alan Buckley and made many goals for the little striker with his unselfish play and never gave less than 100% with his whole-hearted displays. Walsall had defeated the then Second Division Manchester United 3-2 in a replay in that 74-5 cup run. The Newcastle match was in doubt due to heavy overnight rain and only passed a lunchtime inspection. The Magpies were 13th in the First Division whilst The Saddlers were 11th in the Third Division. In the 34th minute of the game Walsall were awarded a free kick, taken by Roger Fry. George rose majestically to plant a firm header into the Laundry End net.

19,998 witnessed the shock 1-0 Saddlers win and George Andrews, somewhat reluctantly, made all the headlines. However he was a very private individual who wanted no fuss and attention and shunned interviews with the local and national papers. He was by now 32 years of age but had looked after himself and went on to enjoy two more good years at Fellows Park in which he netted 38 goals in 177 games. His career saw him score 150 goals in 443 appearances. A proper Black Country lad, born and bred in Dudley, he played for a host of non-league clubs up to his late 40’s and was still playing in charity matches in his 50’s.

He was affectionately known as ‘Super George’ by Saddlers fans but he was a bit of a saint as well.

Red Card Roy McDonough – Roy’s Unwanted Record

Former Saddler Roy McDonough had quite a career, but mainly for all the wrong reasons, as he holds the record for most red cards in a career. 22 to be exact. He also shares the record of the most Football league dismissals, jointly held with Steve Walsh, at a relatively meagre total of 13.

After just two games for Birmingham City, he arrived at Fellows Park in September 1978, a fresh faced striker of just 19 years of age. He was over six foot tall and it was soon evident that he could look after himself on the pitch. He had the odd game at centre half and he made the men he was marking aware of his presence with as much gusto as when he was playing as a striker. Let’s just say, he made ALL his opponents aware that he was around.

He was signed for Walsall by Alan Ashman and he was on target in just his second game in our colours and soon afterwards scored two and hit the bar twice in a 4-1 win over Peterborough. However Big Roy, or Donut as he was often called, somehow never lived up to that early goal scoring record and in the course of two years at Fellows Park hit 15 goals in 82 appearances. Walsall slipped into Division Four at the end of that season, but he enjoyed a better season in the basement, linking up with Alan Buckley and Don Penn. He made 40 full appearances in that promotion and whilst only helping himself to 7 goals always gave his all as Buckley and Penn notched 40 between them.

It was during that 79-80 season when his reputation for being a bad boy developed. He got sent-off for dissent in an away game at Lincoln after earlier being booked. That summer he refused to sign a new contract as he was not happy with the terms offered and went on week-to-week contracts as he fell out with the club and the manager, Buckley. Geoff Hurst, the then Chelsea manager, wanted him on trial for a week but Walsall insisted he was for sale only and Chelsea duly stumped up the £15,000 required by the Saddlers.

One of my Fellows Park memories of ‘Donut’ is that he was sometimes the target of the boo-boys when things were not going Walsall’s way and when he did score one of his all-to infrequent goals he would give a ‘V’ sign to the Street Enders, which obviously riled the supporters even more. This was not forgotten by Saddlers fans who would barrack him when he played against Walsall for many years thereafter. He never made the grade at Stamford Bridge and was sold on to Colchester, for whom he had two spells. He also later had two spells with Southend United plus stints at Cambridge and Exeter and over these years it was no surprise to read in the press of another red card for Roy.

In his Football League career he chalked up 80 goals in 437 full apps and dropped into the Conference with Colchester in his second spell. As a player-manager with the ‘U’s he did the double, guiding them back into the Football League and an FA Trophy success. He banged in 29 goals that season and got into the news for all the wrong reasons again having spats with Martin O’Neill, Wycombe’s coaching staff and the Wycombe Wanderers players by taunting the lot of them!

On regaining their League status I recall a visit to Layer Road in the 1992/93 season and whilst waiting for corners to be taken he was winding up the Saddlers fans –  goading them with abuse of which he got plenty back!  After being sacked by Colchester he drifted into the non-league scene again and got sacked at Heybridge for bad discipline as well as bad results. On his day he was quite a handful and a decent striker, despite the goal record. One thing is for sure, he was certainly a player who left his mark…if not for all the right reasons. His confrontational style was his trademark, after all.

If you want to know more about Roy McDonough then his biography is coming out on August 20th 2012.  The book is called ‘Red Card Roy’, and more details will be available here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Red-Card-Roy-SENDINGS-FOOTBALLER/dp/1907637567/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331050107&sr=1-1

There are two or three chapters about his time at Walsall and some great stories – especially regarding his relationship with the Fellows Park crowd and Alan Buckley.

It is published through Vision Sports Publishing, who recently published a book about another Birmingham old boy, which is called ‘Mick Rathbone’s Smell of Football’.

The Sean Geddes Interview

Sean Geddes has kindly put himself forward to be the first ex-Saddler interviewed for The Gilbert Alsop. Sean was surprisingly released in the summer of 2011 and has now linked up with Stourbridge Town, who are currently in 6th place of the Evostik League – Premier Division. Sean, who has previously been chosen to play at under 19 level for Wales, is having an excellent season – scoring a number of goals – as he bids to get Stourbridge promoted to Tier 6 and earn for himself a move back into the Football League.

Let’s start by asking you what you were like at school. Were you the best player in your school team? Did you ever play in a game when you scored more than 10 goals? Yes, I was the best player at school and ‘no’ I always set them up.

How were you spotted by Walsall? I wasn’t spotted by Walsall I was spotted by Manchester United and Walsall FC are a feeder club for Manchester United.

What was it like effectively signing a three-year deal with Walsall at just 16 as you were given a one year apprenticeship to be followed by a two-year pro offer? I only signed a 3 year deal in-case Manchester United didn’t work out, but I regret signing the deal now because there were other big teams looking at me and I couldn’t leave because of the 3 years I still had on my contract.

Will Grigg has played a few games this season. Was he the stand out player from your group of players?  Will Grigg was the best youth team player – he always worked hard and was the last to leave training every day. 

I remember in the summer of 2010 you came on as sub in the two big home friendlies v. Wolves and Villa and started the game at Port Vale. What were those experiences like? The experience was great and I loved playing in front of a lot of people, it was a great buzz. I didn’t expect to start at Port Vale so I was very nervous.

I saw you play for Walsall Youth against Chelsea Youth in the FA Youth Cup a few years back. We lost 5-1 but I thought we gave them a decent game especially considering the calibre of players they had. Unfortunately, you were sent off in that game. What are your memories of the game? Were that Chelsea team the best you have played against? We should have had a penalty in that game but the ref didn’t give it. Chelsea were not the best team I have played against. The best team I played against was in the Nike Cup against Barcelona – they were a great passing side.

Is Mick Halsall the loudest man in football? He was the ONLY person I could hear that night. Mick Halsall is very passionate about his job and he was the biggest help I had while I was at Walsall and when he left it was a massive loss to Walsall FC.

Who would you say was the best manager for the club and you personally as you served under Jimmy Mullen, Chris Hutchings and Dean Smith? Chris Hutchings was the best because if you were finding it tough he would always have a chat with you and the door was always open to talk to him.

Whilst at Bescot you were reportedly linked with moves to bigger clubs. West Brom, Manchester United, Blackburn, Bolton and Newcastle were amongst some the press mentioned. Was that a distraction, an embarrassment, flattering, or was it viewed as just media speculation? Was there any truth in this? Yes, it was all true. I was flattered more than anything, knowing such big clubs were interested, but Walsall refused all bids.

Plenty of young players have been released by their first league club, dropped in to non-league football and returned to have a decent career after all. Does this dream spur you on? Yes of course it does. There are already a few league clubs interested, so hopefully I will be moving on soon.

October 29th 2011, my birthday, I am playing golf, having a great day, I then get a text from my Mom telling me that Stourbridge have prevented Rushall Olympic, one of my local clubs from going into the first round of the FA Cup for the first time and not only that, they got walloped 5-0. This took the shine off my birthday. How do you feel? Ha, ha, well I’m sorry about that but it was great to be part of my first FA Cup run.  It was fantastic to get to the second round. It was incredible, I loved every minute of it.

The Glassboys shocked the football world with their fine 2-0 FA Cup win over Plymouth this season. What was that experience like? What was it like on the coach back to the Black Country after earning a replay? The experience was great and to play a good game and have took part in both goals was also great. The coach was buzzing – the beers were flying through the coach- everyone was really enjoying the experience.

The new England captain, Scott Parker, appeared in a McDonalds advert doing keepie-uppies in his back garden. How many can you do? Can you do that thing of balancing the ball on the back of your neck? I don’t count how many keepie-uppies I can do as I  do too many to be counting them. One of my first skills I learnt was to balance the ball on the back of my neck.

What is it like travelling to provincial backwaters of England – to places such as Tipton, Hemel Hempstead and Brackley? Do you get to see much of these places? Can you personally hear the fans if they are abusing you? The lower the level the more you can hear the fans because there are only barriers between you so you can hear them a lot more, but it makes it a better experience. No, you don’t see much of the places where you play. Have you ever played against Pelsall Villa? No.

Finally some quick-fire questions, about your time at Walsall. Which player was the:

Most skilful? Hardest? Laziest? Liberal? Intelligent? The most skilful player was Ismael Demontagnac. The hardest player was Antony Gerrard. Laziest? Ismael again. Intelligent? Has to be Mark Hughes.

Thank you very much Sean. Let’s hope you get Stourbridge promoted this season then get your move to a Football League club. In the meantime, here is a video of Sean in action, showing the hardest player who used to be at Walsall, how it is done:

Sean Geddes Penalty

There will be more interviews on the way, soon! 

Walsall Winger Willie

It is the turn of Alan Buckley’s Three Striped Adidas Shirt to give us another nostalgia piece, this time on Willie Naughton, who despite never actually seeing him play was my favourite Walsall player when I was a child, purely on account of his saucy first name. ABTSAS says that we will never see a winger like Willie again but I do remember some excellent wing-play from John Hodge, which I have already written about in the article ‘The Best Performance You Never Saw’. Over to you ABTSAS….

Walsall fans in recent times have rightfully bemoaned the lack of a genuine winger at the club. One of my favourite wide men wasn’t always appreciated by the Saddlers supporters and was perceived as a bit of an enigma, but, on his day, he could turn on the art of wing-play and be a very effective match-winner with his service or finishing. When Alan Buckley signed 23 year-old Willie Naughton from Preston North End for £40,000 in March 1985 (yes, we used to actually pay transfer fees in those days!) he knew exactly what he was getting and the Scot enjoyed four or so years at Fellows park after leaving Deepdale, where he had scored 10 goals in 162 league games for the Lancashire club.

He arrived too late to help Walsall’s promotion push but soon settled in and enjoyed a superb first full season in 1985/86 which saw him make 45 starts in all competitions scoring eight goals and providing plenty of assists for the likes of David Kelly, Nicky Cross and his old Preston partner Stevie Elliott, as Saddlers banged in over 100 league goals. One game in particular stood out for Willie that season, he tormented his former club with his wing play and helped himself to a hat-trick as Walsall beat North End 7-3 in a FA Cup tie at Fellows Park. He also got Saddlers goal in a 1-1 draw with Wolves to further enhance his reputation as someone who could grab goals.

His following season, his first under new manager Tommy Coakley, wasn’t so good as he had a long spell out injured and that coupled with a loss of form saw him only make 20 league starts, however, 1987/88 turned out to be a good season for him and the team as Walsall finally climbed out of the Third Division. Naughton started 38 games and played in the five play-off games, with some useful goals thrown in, as well as providing excellent service for the likes of Trevor Christie and of course David Kelly. He was also one of the few players to personally have a good season in the Second Division season of 1988/89 figuring in 35 games and chipping in with seven goals. That summer however he was transferred to Shrewsbury and we thought that was the last we would see of him.

It was something of a surprise when Kenny Hibbitt signed him in early 1991 and he turned out a dozen times in the Fourth Division in this his second spell, this time at the Bescot. He was never really the same in this spell and it was no surprise when he and a lot of other players were released that summer. He later joined Bamber Bridge after his league career finished. Overall, Willie scored 24 goals in over 200 appearances for Walsall. I guess we will never see the likes of that type of winger again in our colours. He later successfully battled against testicular cancer and last we heard had settled in Nuneaton.

Ian Roper – Walsall’s Unsung Hero

Tom Lines has written another great article about Walsall FC for When Saturday Comes, this time it is about Ian Roper. You can read it here:

http://www.wsc.co.uk/content/view/8279/38/

I will add my own two’pennerth worth and state that his central defensive partnership with Matt Carbon is the best I have seen since I started supporting the Saddlers. Roper seemed to play his greatest football at the higher level and the essence of why he was so loved by the fans has been captured in this article.